Sending and receiving cash is effortless. Can be used on some sites and apps that accept PayPal.
Default privacy setting shares your payment history with the world. Requires recipients to install app.
- Bottom Line
Venmo's clear focus and strong execution make it one of the best overall mobile-payment systems.
Like music CDs and DVDs, cold, hard cash is on the cusp of becoming the latest victim of mobile and internet technology. Money is dirty, credit cards are confusing and predatory, no one wants to do much math, and writing a check is as antiquated as cursive. Venmo, the highest-profile peer-to-peer mobile payment app around, solves many of these problems. While I dislike that it defaults to showing other people all of your transactions in Venmo's social network, you can turn that feature off, and this free app offers an easy way to send and receive cash from friends. Venmo's clear focus and strong execution make it one of the best overall mobile payment systems and our Editors' Choice.
Venmo works on iOS, Android, and the web. I've been using it on an iPhone X running iOS 11.2 with no difficulties. After creating an account, you flesh out your profile by entering debit card or bank account details to authenticate yourself. Then connect with friends already on the platform, usually via Facebook. Entering more information raises the amount of money you can send or receive at once, from a $300 weekly cap to $3,000. This cap is lower than Google Wallet's $5,000 daily limit, but should still be enough for most users. In all, Venmo is one of the easier payment apps to set up, though Facebook Payments is every bit as easy, and doesn't even require installing an app if you've already got Messenger.
Unfortunately, there's no way to circumvent the 3 percent fee on funds taken from a credit card or a non-major debit card. But the same holds for most payment apps, including Apple Pay Cash. Square Cash doesn't even let you use a credit card for payments. If you're looking to exchange money with businesses, rather than with your friends, you need to use an NFC-payment app like Android Pay or Apple Pay, or a payment app like LevelUp.
What's New for Venmo?
Since our last review, Venmo has added several new capabilities (many of them emoji-related). Here's a quick summary of the new features:
Payments to online stores and apps. Now you can use Venmo on many sites and apps that include a PayPal button for checking out. This is not a big stretch, since PayPal owns Venmo. Advantages over simply paying with PayPal include letting you split the cost or share activity to your Venmo audience.
Venmo Codes. These are QR codes that you can scan in person rather than typing in a name and hoping you've got the right James Smith.
Festival-themed emojis. What would a beer party payment be without a beer glass emoji? This is just one of the new emoji sets announced by the payment app since our last review.
Siri and iMessage Integration. Why wear out your fingers when you can simply tell Siri to pay Joe for your half of the taxi fare using Venmo?
Group Accounts. Though still in beta, this feature lets organizations collect dues and other multiparty transactions.
Paying Friends With Venmo
To help you give and get cash from your friends, Venmo needs to know who your friends are. The app analyzes your phone's contact list to find fellow Venmo users. You can also invite anyone you know to try out the service. Those two methods work fine, but Venmo prefers to import your Facebook profile to generate a potential friends list.
To actually make a payment, you simply tap the bill icon, select a friend, choose between paying money or asking for it, write a description for the transaction, and send the bill. Entering the description is an extra step not required by other payment apps, but it's part of Venmo's social aspect. If you're not feeling verbose, an emoji does the trick in place of a text note. Once the amount, recipient, and note are in place, you get a final confirmation button, in case you get cold feet about reducing your assets. Venmo alerts you if and when your friend complies or when you have new pending debts of your own.
Performing a transaction with someone you're not friends with on Facebook has been greatly simplified by the Venmo Codes feature. With this, you simply point your phone's camera at the recipient's QR code, and presto—you can send or request money. I tried this with a non-Facebook-friended coworker, and she was in receipt of my generous buck before you could say "mobile payment application." The Square Cash app, however, makes sending money to someone in physical proximity even easier, with its Nearby feature.
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As mentioned, your transactions are uncomfortably visible by default, but it's easy to restrict the information to Participants Only in Settings > Privacy and Sharing. In the same Settings area, you can opt to prevent anyone from sharing your activity. I find it questionable that Venmo doesn't give you these options up front during setup. When I asked acquaintances if they knew their activity was visible to the public, some were taken aback and immediately changed the privacy settings. Others were perfectly at ease with the transparency of their personal financial doings.
Occasionally the public sharing leads to some funny, cryptic stories of past wild nights out for friends to like and comment on. "Tony S." paid "Bruce B." $10,000 for "Science Bro Stuff." Friends love flaunting inside jokes on the Internet; after all, braggadocio is the impetus for most social network posts. But honestly, do other people really need to know who you're sending money to and how much?
Venmo is now powered by the payment experts at PayPal , so its security is backed by that outfit's heavy artillery and encryption. There's also a good process for locking your account if you lose the device on which you installed Venmo.
Potential privacy panics aside, Venmo's Facebook integration might be one of its greatest strengths. Not only is Facebook arguably the quickest way to find most people's friends, the constant newsfeed gives the impression that everyone else is using Venmo, so you should too. Watch the perspective-warping power of social media in action.
A payment app is only useful and practical if your friends are on it, too. If all your friends have iPhones, fine, Apple Pay does the trick, but you can't send money to an Android-toter. Mobile-payment apps are all about making sharing money less complicated, so if you have to download some new app to get back the five bucks you lent a buddy a few days ago, that's just another hassle. Friends, unlike merchants, don't have the luxury of NFC terminals or devices like Square to get paid via debit and credit cards. With Venmo, you get something just as convenient. So, it's in everyone's best interest, manufacturers and users alike, that more people use the same app. Of course, Facebook Messenger's Payment option doesn't even require downloading a separate app.
Using Venmo with Siri on an iPhone X resembles doing so with Apple Pay and a few other apps: When I told Siri to pay a coworker $5, the response screen let me choose among Venmo, Apple Pay, Cash, and PayPal. Once you choose Venmo, the payment process is identical to starting from the app.
Venmo's effortless payment system makes it an app worth relying on. The app keeps a running list of past transactions you can check. Money added shows up in green while money paid out is red. Similar to Apple Pay Cash, the app also functions as a virtual wallet to store funds, which you can cash out and transfer to a bank account after a few days of processing time.
Moving Money the Fun Way
Other mobile payment apps simply move money between people. Venmo attempts to make payments between friends not only easy, but also social. This focus makes all the difference, especially for those who like to share—though those who are more privacy-minded can adjust the visibility of their transactions to fit their comfort level. Venmo can also help you make sure those same friends pony up.
For a detailed walkthrough on the ins and outs of Venmo, see our feature article, Pay Up: How to Use Venmo.
About the Author
Michael Muchmore is PC Magazine?s lead analyst for software and Web applications. A native New Yorker, he has at various times headed up PC Magazine?s coverage of Web development, enterprise software, and display technologies. Michael cowrote one of the first overviews of Web Services for a general audience. Before that he worked on PC Magazine?s S… See Full Bio
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